The Dangers of Critical Thinking

It’s sukkos now, and though I no longer go to my parents for the holidays, many of my formerly-religious friends do. And when they go home, they often pick up the frum magazines their parents got, flip through them, and then steal away to surreptitiously snap a photo so they can share their horror with friends via social media.

Yesterday, a friend sent these two snapshots of part of an article to a group, and with that friend’s permission, I’m sharing those photos and a transcription. It’s astounding how blatantly this piece says “let’s not teach our children to think, okay?” And yet rather than being horrified by this, I was amused. Because as my mother would say (in Yiddish), if I don’t laugh, I’ll definitely cry.

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Image description: part of a page, topped by a yellow traffic sign with an arrow, and the title: “Hold that Thought?” Text beneath the title:

In general society, “thinking for yourself” is encouraged and applauded. But is independent thought a Jewish value? How can we raise children who won’t blindly follow the herd – but will follow gedolim (great leaders)? Who will ask crucial questions – but won’t challenge mesorah (tradition)? A thoughtful look at complex conundrums.

Elisheva Appel.

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Image description: Part of a magazine page. Visible text:

Safe thinking.

Thinking, of course, can be dangerous business, which is why so many educators are hesitant to encourage it. “To think critically is always to be hostile,” said political philosopher Hannah Arendt, and hostility is hardly a value we want to perpetuate. “Out of the 10 or 20 high schools I knew, only one, maybe two, would teach the girls how to think for themselves,” says one young woman in her twenties. No one advocates raising automatons, but there are inherent challenges in teaching children to think deeply. Rabbi Yehudah Jacobs, mashgiach (supervisor) in Beth Medrash Govoha of Lakewood, points out the potential risk in applying reason to Torah. “This has to be done very carefully. You’ll get a child into the mode of thinking…”

Incidentally, I also stumbled across this (very old) blog post from 2005, at the height of the skeptics’ blogosphere activity. It is a very, very long post, and I am chipping away at it bit by bit. It is revelatory. It is particularly satisfying to me to see the whole “heard it at Sinai” argument torn to shreds, because my mother used that to beat me over the head (figuratively) with my “intellectual dishonesty” when I left.

And it encapsulates exactly why the “gedolim” want to make sure people can’t think for themselves, and exactly why it is imperative that we make sure future generations can think critically and for themselves.

Say it with me: critical thinking is only dangerous to those who want to keep the oppressive status quo!!!

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